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Security Council, UN officials urge Eritrea to stop blocking mission's relocation

Security Council, UN officials urge Eritrea to stop blocking mission's relocation

Top United Nations officials and the Security Council today appealed to Eritrea to stop obstructing the temporary relocation of the personnel and equipment of the UN mission across the border to Ethiopia amid growing concern over rapidly dwindling food and fuel supplies for the blue helmets.

Asmara cut off diesel fuel supplies to the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) last December, paralyzing the operation. The mission's advance units started moving by road on 11 February, while UNMEE's main body began its relocation yesterday.

But in a statement released by his spokesperson, the Secretary-General said that so far, Asmara has only allowed six vehicles to cross into Ethiopia. In one case yesterday, “UNMEE personnel were threatened and the equipment seized.”

He also voiced concern about the “disturbing” development in which the Eritrean commercial company supplying rations to UNMEE today said that it will no longer fulfil its contractual obligations, leaving the mission with only a few days of emergency food left.

Stressing that the relocation is temporary, Mr. Ban said that he “is in close contact with the Security Council and the troop contributing countries, and the Eritrean authorities are being contacted at the highest level to seek and immediate resolution of this unacceptable situation.”

In a statement read out by Ambassador Ricardo Alberto Arias of Panama, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council, its members condemned Eritrea's lack of cooperation with the UN.

The 15-member body said that by not reinstating fuel supplies to UNMEE, the country “has created a situation in which a temporary relocation of personnel and equipment from Eritrea has been rendered inevitable.”

Mr. Arias said that the Council “holds Eritrea responsible for the safety and security of the Mission and its personnel.”

Meanwhile, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno, who briefed the Council in a closed meeting, characterized the situation as “untenable.”

Talking to reporters after addressing the panel, he said, “We are in a situation where it's getting harder and harder to stay and it's getting harder and harder to leave. We're running out of fuel, we're running out of food.”

Mr. Guéhenno stressed that it is “unacceptable” that blue helmets, who are deployed to provide assistance, become victims.

“It's a question of trust between the UN and its troop contributing countries,” he said, calling on Eritrea to immediately resume its cooperation with the world body.